News & Views

Weekly Wins Monthly Round-up: COVID-19 Edition

Like you, I log onto my email these mornings with a mixture of dread and hope. Dread to learn of more suffering caused by this strange virus, and dread to learn of clients who have fallen through the gaping holes in the American safety net. But on Fridays, I log on eagerly because I know hope for better news will triumph. I will receive an email from my astonishing colleagues about their “Weekly Wins,” and I will be astounded all over again by what they and our clients achieve together. Let me share the joy they give me with you and open a window for you into the work of HIAS PA since the beginning of this terrible pandemic.

1. A girl, trafficked, under 18, finds new life in the US.

“This week I received my very first visa approval for an individual who was trafficked and ended up in a slavery situation. USCIS made everything more complicated by asking for more evidence than usual. Big shout out to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking who provided feedback on my legal arguments. The client left long-term foster care in Philly at the beginning of quarantine, and moved to another state to live with her boyfriend and child. She texted me worried that she would have to find a new attorney to continue her case, and was ecstatic when I shared the news that her case was approved and that I was in the process of terminating removal proceedings, so that she was no longer threatened with deportation. I even successfully referred her to another nonprofit for case management services and help bringing her two younger siblings to the U.S., which she can now do since she has a T(trafficking)-visa.”

-Stephanie Lubert, Immigrant Youth Advocacy Initiative Supervising Attorney

2. Eligible clients get a shot at benefits they desperately need.

“I want to give a huge shoutout to Refugee Fellow Zhanna Ivanova, and Immigrant Wellness Program Group Programming Coordinator Anna Shaffer, who have been super helpful with answering my questions related to unemployment compensation and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Zhanna even took the time to help my naturalization client complete the PUA application. ​One of the clients I’m helping to naturalize, a single mother from Algeria with limited English skills, has had zero income since being let go from her job working at a daycare in early March. She had tried and failed to apply for unemployment on her own, but thanks to Zhanna, it looks like she will receive it. The client and I are both so grateful!”

-Mary Clark, Philadelphia Citizen Action Network (P-CAN) Coordinator  

3. Clients keep learning English, a survival skill.

“My weekly win is that Adult and Youth English as a Second Language (ESL) Instructor Charlie Heil and our fab student teacher from Penn TESOL, Yeji, co-hosted their first Zoom-based Adult ESL class this past Tuesday. Michelle Ferguson, Immigrant Education Specialist, Charlie, and Yeji have been calling our students one by one these past few weeks to do short English conversation check-ins, and we’re now transitioning everyone to group Zoom classes. So grateful for this amazing team and their patience and creativity, especially during this time!”

-Valeri Harteg, Education Program Manager

4. A client advocates for her rights – and triumphs!

“Like so many others in Philadelphia, a client I am working with was temporarily furloughed due to COVID-19. She is a hard worker who has been in the US for a few years and is a great advocate for herself. I let her know that BenePhilly has a hotline to call in order to be screened for public benefits eligibility. She took the initiative to call them and ask for interpretation, and was approved for Medicaid and food stamps. I am so happy that I was able to connect her to this wonderful service in Philly and that she showed so much independence in acquiring these benefits!”

-Anna Shaffer, Immigrant Wellness Program Group Programming Coordinator

5. And our volunteers continue to support our clients

“I work closely with 3 high school senior girls, and they’re all adjusting well to this new (temporary) normal. One got accepted to Temple and Penn State Abington, and after a few conversations with her, she just confirmed her spot at Penn State! I’m so proud of her, and my other two students, who worked hard all year long and are not letting this virus get in the way of their bright future. It’s been a wonderful experience for everyone and I hope they visit next year so I can hear all the ways that they are thriving in college.”

-Paige G, High School Volunteer​​

Thank you for your continued support of HIAS Pennsylvania.I hope that these Weekly Wins from HIAS PA staff have given you a lift, as they do me. Look out for more wins at the end of the month!​

In health,

Cathryn Miller-Wilson

P.S. If you have the ability, please consider donating to the Immigrant Relief Fund so that the most vulnerable have income support and our agency can continue to provide critical services to the community.